Sunday, October 15, 2017

It's Monday and I need to get organized!

Hello, bookish people! How are you?

It's been a busy week, but I did have the chance to spend most of Saturday with two of my sisters and my mom. Now it's time to focus on getting organized this for the week, including some events at our church and the 24 Hour Readathon!

This week, I read Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Brokenhearted World and White is for Witching. I also finally finished listening to Lab Girl. I borrowed the audiobook from my library way back in May, but didn't get to finish it before it had to go back. I got it back in my library queue a few weeks ago and I'm so glad I did. What a beautiful and unexpected story!

        White Is for Witching  Lab Girl

Now I'm reading A Murder in Time and assembling my stack of books for the readathon this weekend. What are you reading?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review: Sourdough

Lois Clary's life revolves around her job as a software engineer at a hip tech company specializing in robotics. Her only non-work interaction is with the brothers who run a local restaurant; she talks to one on the phone when she orders and sees the other when he delivers her food. She adores their spicy food and sourdough bread, but her happy dinners come to an abrupt end when the brothers have to leave the country. They come to say goodbye and leave her a strange gift--their sourdough starter. Lois learns to bake and soon she is baking bread for her company's cafeteria and then for an underground farmer's market that combines cooking and technology. Lois' routine life is about to become very surprising.

This is my second foray into a Robin Sloan novel and I had a wonderful time reading both books. They are heartfelt, quirky, and smart, and I love the way that Sloan looks at both the limitations and promise of history and technology. This story is like nothing you've ever read before and the author will take you on a wild and really fun ride, while subtly making you think about what makes a good life and whether tradition and technology can live together.

Lois herself is a great character, but Sloan really goes to town in creating his secondary characters which include a group of women all named Lois, a haughty restauranter, a man who herds goats and makes radioactive cheese, and a bibliophile who only collects books about food. There is a bit of magic that lives in this book and in the sourdough starter; it occasionally goes a bit too far but mostly makes for a delightful addition to this story.

Now while you go get this book, I'm off to bake some bread.

By Robin Sloan
MCD Farrar, Straus, and Giroux September 2017
262 pages
From the library

Monday, October 9, 2017

It's Monday and we're jumping into another week!

Hello there, ladies and gents! How is it going?

I'm going to keep it short and sweet this morning. I need to get to the grocery store and back with little girl before her big brother gets home from a half day of school.

This week, I read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. Now I'm almost through Parable of the Sower. Somehow it's taken me 30 years to read a book by Octavia Butler, but I'm finally here!

               The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo   Parable of the Sower (Earthseed, #1)

Next up for me is Shalom Sistas by Osheta Moore. What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Review: A Beautiful Poison

Allene Cutter fought hard for her childhood friends Jasper and Birdie to come to her engagement party. Her father doesn't think they are acceptable company for a young woman about to be married into one of New York's wealthiest families. When a woman at the party drops dead, the three friends are pulled into a mystery. Are the people dying all around them victims of the Spanish influenza or is something more sinister at work?

Lydia Kang transports readers into 1918 New York City, from the most opulent mansions to the clock factory where Birdie spends hours each day carefully painting dials. The mystery is a slow burn as our intrepid trio of friends try to decode the messages left with each body, armed with Allene's knowledge of chemistry and Jasper's access to the local morgue. This is one of those books that can easily send you down a bookish rabbit hole. It is easy to read about Jasper working in the morgue or Birdie painting clock faces with radium and jump right into a book like Bellevue or The Radium Girls

The author makes a bold choice, as none of the main characters is particularly likable. As eighteen year olds, they make selfish and bad decisions often. In certain books, you can tell the good guys from the bad guys. In A Beautiful Poison, almost anyone could be guilty because they all do terrible things to the people in their lives. Each time you think you might know who is behind the mysterious deaths, new information changes everything. I didn't see the ending coming at all. If you love a good mystery and a trip 100 years into the past, this is a great read.

A Beautiful Poison
By Lydia Kang
Lake Union Publishing August 2017
350 pages
Read via Netgalley

Monday, October 2, 2017

It's Monday and I'm reading all the new releases!

Oh September, you were a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad month. But I'm trying to be hopeful about October. I have a giant stack of books that came in from the library and it is definitely the time of year to bake all the delicious things.

This week, I read Escaping Peril. My son and I are exchanging books each month, so he picked that one for me to read in September. Then I jumped into the giant stack of library holds that came in all at once and read Chemistry and The Alice Network

            Chemistry   The Alice Network

Next up for me is The Seven Husbands of Evelyn HugoWhat are you reading this week?

Monday, September 25, 2017

Review: The Other Alcott

Everyone knows Louisa May Alcott, the author of the much-beloved Little Women. Many readers know that the stories were loosely based on Alcott's life and family. But few people stop to think about the real lives of the other little women. In The Other Alcott, Elise Hooper imagines the life of May Alcott, the woman who is known to many readers as tempestuous and selfish Amy.

Both Louisa and May are women who love art--Louisa writes stories and May is enamored with drawing and painting. When Little Women is published, Louisa's story is praised and May's accompanying illustrations are panned. Their paths diverge, as Louisa takes up the mantle of providing for the family financially and May must care for their everyday needs, at the expense of her art. It will take a break from the family for May to develop her artistic talent and discover who she really is, away from the shadow of Amy March.

Like many girls, Elise Hooper grew up loving the story and characters of Little Women. She even lived near the Alcott's family home. Hooper tells readers in the afterword that she started writing this book the day her youngest daughter started kindergarten, because May's story had been calling to her for years. It's easy to see Hooper's love for the Alcott family on these pages. They lived in the middle of a fascinating period in history--their father was a prominent abolitionist, Louisa was one of the few women of her time to have a successful career as an author, and May experienced an art world on the brink as new styles like Impressionism came to the forefront.

But of course this must be a book about family at its core, since it is a fresh look at the little women. While the fictional March family made poverty look charming, that was not the reality for the Alcott family. Louisa worked incessantly to provide for the family and the friction in this story comes from two sisters trying to find room for both of them to have careers when there are bills that must be paid and a family that needs care. Hooper shows us a May who could be passionate like her fictional counterpart, but also cared deeply for her family. In this story, Louisa is a woman is cold in a way Jo never was, when her determination to keep the family solvent and have a successful career takes precedence over anyone's happiness.

The Other Alcott is a must-read for anyone who counts themselves among the devoted fans of Little Women. It's also a story that shows that the tension between pursuing our dreams and caring for our families is an old, familiar tale.

The Other Alcott
By Elise Hooper
William Morrow September 2017
432 pages
From the publisher for TLC Book Tours

It's Monday and I'm reading about dragons

Hello, fellow readers. How are things going?

Things are still slightly crazy here in the literary house, but we are working through it one day at a time. We are still reading, though. This week, I read (and loved) Robin Sloan's Sourdough and then I read The Other Alcott, which focuses on Louisa May Alcott's sister May, the inspiration for Amy in Little Women. That review will be up later today.

         Sourdough   Escaping Peril (Wings of Fire, #8)

Now I'm reading Escaping Peril. My nine-year-old son and I are starting a mother/son book club. This month, he gave me a book to read and in October, I get to pick one for him. I was unsure about the book he picked--the eighth installment in a MG series about dragons--but so far, it's pretty good! What books would you suggest for us to read in the next few months?

What are you reading this week?

Friday, September 22, 2017

Review: The History of Bees

In 1852 London, William provides for his family by selling seeds. But he really wants to work with bees and build the beehive that will finally make his mentor proud of him. George is an American beekeeper in 2007 who still builds his own hives, even as something strange happens to bee colonies around the world. Tao lives in China in 2098. The bees have been gone for a long time, so Tao and her co-workers painstakingly paint pollen onto trees to grow fruit. When her son is injured, Tao sets out to find out what happened to her son, the bees, and the world.

The History of Bees is, as you might expect, a story about what happens to bees over the centuries and how humanity interacts with nature. But it's also about the ways that people relate to each other and what we need to feel successful in our lives. In the 19th century, William is driven to bed by depression and readers witness his family deal with his illness and their dwindling resources in various ways. George tries to reconcile his love for the farm life he has always known with his love for his son, who finds purpose in words instead of manual labor. And in the future, Tao is resigned to her life as long as her child can have something better. When an accident destroys that hope, she becomes an angrier, more desperate person who is willing to do things she never would have imagined.

This novel seems important in so many ways. The future of bees will impact our future as humans. But this story is also about work, the difference between a job and a calling, and how we give our attention to our work and the work that accompanies being a spouse, a parent, and a person in the world. The three storylines might feel forced with a different author, but Lunde succeeds in making the reader care for each of them and brings them together in a very satisfying way.

The History of Bees
By Maja Lunde
Translated by Diane Oatley
Touchstone August 2017
352 pages
Read via Netgalley

Monday, September 18, 2017

It's Monday and I'm still here...

It's been a long few weeks, friends. I had a wonderful time with my whole family, as my cousins and sister and brother-in-law came to visit, but the world is going crazy everywhere we look. The kids hit the "we love each other, but we've been together for weeks and weeks and now everything is irritating" part of summer. I was both excited and sad to send my little one off to pre-k. We've hit a few rough patches personally and in our church. I just haven't been excited about blogging. Some days I haven't even picked up a book.

But I have read some books since I last wrote one of these posts. I read What The Family Needed, which imagines a family that is granted powers that they use to help their loved ones. I also read The Bees, a collection of poetry by Carol Ann Duffy that my sister gave me for my birthday. Last Thursday was the first day of school for my kids, so I enjoyed the quiet house by reading a book cover-to-cover. Fear not, The Girl in the Tower is just as good as The Bear and the Nightingale. It's out in December but I wanted the kind of book you can just immerse yourself in, and that fit the bill beautifully!

          What the Family Needed  The Girl in the Tower (The Bear and the Nightingale #2)

My first pick for Readers In Peril this year was Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (I know, I'm the last one in the world to read this). This weekend I read Something Beautiful Happened, in which the author tries to make sense of discovering her grandmother hid a Jewish family during WWII in the wake of a relative being murdered by a neo-Nazi. I seem to be back to my two-book-a-week reading rhythm, so hopefully I can get back into blogging this week too. Fingers crossed!

         Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children, #1)   Something Beautiful Happened: A Story of Survival and Courage in the Face of Evil

Now I'm loving Robin Sloan's new book Sourdough. What are you reading?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Review: My Glory Was I Had Such Friends

Amy Silverstein discovered that the donor heart that had beat for 26 years was failing. If she didn't get a new heart quickly, she would die. Amy and her husband send their son off to college and then pack up their life and move across the country. The best cardiac care is in California and Amy is hoping for another heart and some more time. But her friends won't let her face this alone. Nine of them create a spreadsheet and put their own lives on hold to sit by Amy's side in her hospital room. My Glory Was I Had Such Friends is the story of one woman's search for another heart and a reminder of the strength of friendship in the darkest moments.

In a single book, Amy Silverstein can help so many of us who don't quite know what to do in times of crisis. It's easy when someone is grieving or facing a lengthy hospital stay to panic because we aren't sure what the right or helpful thing would be. In My Glory Was I Had Such Friends, we are presented with a group of people who don't always do the right thing. Sometimes they say things that make Amy angry or even make her cry, but they showed up over and over again.

I appreciated that Amy claimed ownership of herself and her illness. Because she has been through a heart transplant before, she knows how to advocate for herself. Sometimes this comes off as being pushy or even mean but, as Amy's friends have to learn, no one truly know what it is like to live inside Amy's body as it is dying. It was difficult to read and eye-opening when Amy started to think about refusing the transplant. After she prepared for a new heart and it fell through, she started to think about the daily agony she was experiencing and the toll it was taking on her loved ones as they watched her fail. In a culture that focuses so much on healing, it's important to think about what it would mean to die well when that time comes.

This is a book I would recommend to everyone; at some point in our life, we will either be the one in the hospital bed or the one sitting next to it. Amy's story can help us know what to do in both of those situations to be the kindest friend we can be. It's also  a beautiful testament to Amy's friends. She writes honestly about the ways they failed her and she failed them but, in the end, this book is a record of the power of our bonds. I would be honored if anyone ever wrote about me with the love and sincerity that lives on these pages.

My Glory Was I Had Such Friends
By Amy Silverstein
Harper Wave June 2017
352 pages
From the library

Monday, August 28, 2017

It's Monday and summer is wrapping up!

Hello again! How are you doing?

I hope we're striking a good balance here in the literary house of getting lots of work done in preparation for school starting soon and also enjoying the last bits of summer. I highly recommend spending some time in a hammock if you have one, preferably with a book and a small nap. I'm excited for this coming week, as our family will all be arriving at my parent's house to enjoy the long weekend together.

This week, I finished reading Show Them No Mercy and also read Ahsoka and A Beautiful Poison. I'm almost done with When the English Fall, a debut novel that imagines how a worldwide catastrophe would look to the self-sustaining Amish.

        A Beautiful Poison   When the English Fall

What are you reading this week?

Friday, August 25, 2017

Review: A Talent for Murder

Agatha Christie is heading home from London, consumed by the knowledge that her husband is having an affair. When a man pulls her out of the way of a train, she quickly discovers that he wasn't saving her. Instead, he threatens her life and that of her daughter before informing the acclaimed mystery writer that he wants her to commit a murder for him. While Christie can craft the twists of a novel, she has no intention of actually killing a person. She will need all of her strength and smarts to outwit a man bent on murder.

Agatha Christie really did disappear for 10 days in 1926 and to this day, no one is sure where she went or what happened to her. Andrew Wilson has taken the few details we do know about that period in Christie's life and imagined what might have occurred. While the story itself is compelling, the big reveal at the end is nowhere near as surprising as the ones in Murder on the Orient Express or Death on the Nile. 

It's interesting and difficult to write about a person who actually existed, even if you are putting them in imaginary circumstances. But I couldn't imagine that the woman who wrote such delicious twists and such crazy characters would have been the way Wilson portrayed her. She is obviously a woman in crisis, but she comes off as a rather boring individual. It almost seems as if the author was so concerned with not creating an upsetting portrayal of a real woman that he forgot to really develop the character that lives on his pages.

It's always fascinating to debate what happened in history, since we will likely never know the truth. I'm glad Andrew Wilson imagined what might have happened to our beloved Agatha Christie, but I wish he had brought her to life more vividly.

A Talent for Murder
By Andrew Wilson
Atria July 2017
320 pages
Read via Netgalley

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Review: Word by Word

Kory Stamper is a lexicographer. She spends her days defining words in the hallowed cubicles at Merriam-Webster Dictionary. With just those two sentences, you have either decided that this book is not for you or you are feeling a growing sense of glee. If you are in the second camp and you think learning more about the art and science of making a dictionary sounds fascinating, then you must read this book.

Word By Word is a book for a very specific kind of person. I would argue that it's precisely for the people who immediately lights up when Stamper starts discussing "sprachgefuhl," a German word that roughly translates to a "feeling for language." If you happen to have that quality, you will be thrilled and fascinated by Stamper's confession that the grammar you learned in school is somewhat useless for lexicographers and just how difficult it can be to write a definition.

Each chapter is organized by something that Stamper has dealt with during her career (irregardless, anyone?). In several, she emphatically states that the people who create the dictionary do not make words; they are merely the researchers who see and record how people are using words. But this does not mean that the choices that the lexicographers make don't have real stakes. She writes about the the backlash that the dictionary received after modifying their definitions for the words "nude" with regards to undergarments and "marriage" after the Supreme Court decision.

The triumph of this book is that Stamper has succeeded in writing specifically about the challenges that lexicographers face at work, as well as an overarching look at the importance of words and dictionaries as the home in which those words live. It's obvious to the reader and the author that it's a bit absurd for English speakers to trust a small group of socially awkward humans sitting at their cubicle day after day to be arbiters of an entire language. The cherry on top is that Kory Stamper is a delightfully funny writer and, as it turns out, working with words can sometimes be downright hilarious. This is a book I will definitely be buying, so I can page through it every time I need a reminder of the fun and insanity of the English language.

Word By Word
The Secret Life of Dictionaries
By Kory Stamper
Pantheon Books March 2017
301 pages
From the library

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

World War II Fiction: The Women of the Castle and The Lost Letter

Marianne von Lingenfels knew that the work that her husband and friends were doing was dangerous. While she may not have known all the details, she knew that they were planning to take down Hitler. When they failed, her safe life of wealth and glamour is over. But she is determined to make the best of things after the war. She returns to the family home and begins a quest to find the wives and families of the other conspirators. Marianne rescues Benita from the Russian army and finds her son and then brings Ania and her children from a refugee camp to join their home. She feels certain that she knows the right things to do now and that their shared history will bring the women together. But none of them are being entirely truthful about their experiences during the war and their secrets threaten to destroy the new family they have cautiously forged.

I read a lot of novels set during the era of WWII and I'm always grateful when an author introduces me to something new. In The Women of the Castle, Jessica Shattuck focuses on the plight of women during and after the war. We witness the impossible choices that civilians must make in the heart of battle and the ways that those choices continued to haunt them even when the war was over. It's easy to believe that things got easier when the war ended but, in many ways, things continued to be difficult for a long time. Things do not magically go back to the way they were before the war and Shattuck shows just how difficult it can be to trust people again when your entire world has been upended.

Note: My galley is called The Women of the Castle, but I see that most editions are The Women in the Castle. I don't know who changed the article or when, but they are the same book as far as I can tell!

The Women of the Castle
By Jessica Shattuck
Zaffre Publishing May 2017
357 pages
Read via Netgalley

Kristoff is an orphan who finally finds a semblance of family in the home of Frederick Faber, a famous Jewish stamp-maker. When his mentor disappears, Kristoff must work alongside Frederick's daughter Elena to engrave stamps for the Nazis while cautiously forging papers to get people out of Europe. Fifty years later, Katie is going through a divorce at the same time her father is slipping deeper into Alzheimer's disease. When she decides to get her father's stamp collection appraised, she discovers a unique Austrian stamp on an unopened letter. She is drawn into the mystery of where the stamp came from, who made it, and what connection it has to her beloved father.

Dual narratives can be the worst, right? Thankfully, Jillian Cantor achieves some sort of literary wizardry in The Lost Letter by writing well-rounded characters in the past and a protagonist that won't drive you crazy in the present. The ending is slightly predictable, but sometimes it's just nice to read about people (even fictional ones) who survived WWII and got a happy ending. I really enjoyed reading this book as well as Cantor's take on the Rosenburgs in The Hours Count and I'm glad I still have one more book of hers to read.

The Lost Letter
By Jillian Cantor
Riverhead Books June 2017
322 pages
From the library

Monday, August 21, 2017

It's Monday and life is moving right along!

Hi there, bookish ladies and gents!

I'm posting a little late because I spent Sunday night with my youngest sister and then changed my work schedule so I worked today. But I'm here now and ready to hear all about the best books you've been reading.

Warp: A Novel   Ahsoka (Star Wars)

I read Lev Grossman's Warp and Zinzi Clemmons' What We Lose this week. I'm still working through Show Them No Mercy, which features several takes on how we can reconcile the God who calls his people to war in the Old Testament and preaches love and mercy in the New Testament. I'm also reading E.K. Johnston's Ahsoka because I love Star Wars and E.K. Johnston.

What are you reading this week?

Friday, August 18, 2017

Reading and Understanding

If you have been around here for more than a hot second, you might have read that I majored in English Literature. I can talk to you about the development of the novel or Shakespeare's impact on the English language. I could point out all the different ways to look at a piece of writing (also called lenses by pretentious English major people).

But the truth is that I still occasionally read a book and find myself befuddled. The two culprits this year (so far) are One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and City of God by E.L. Doctorow. Both authors use stream of consciousness in their books. Marquez jumps all over the history of a family with some magical realism thrown in for good measure. Doctorow tells the story of a priest who is losing his faith in the midst of long passages about science, the universe, and belief.

While reading these books, I found myself stopping and re-reading to see if I really understood what was going on. Sometimes I could figure it out; in other instances, I couldn't gain any more clarity and just kept reading anyway. I finished both books feeling glad I had read them and like I had accomplished something by sticking with a challenging book. But I also felt like I had missed out by not understanding everything that was written.

So I'm wondering if it's a deal-breaker for you if you don't understand all of a book. Do you set it aside in favor of easier reads? Do you work through it with the intention to try it again at a later point? Do you need to understand every bit of a book to enjoy it?

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Review: The Names They Gave Us

Lucy Hansson has it all figured out--she's a confident high school student with a handsome boyfriend, who is ready to start a new school year as the captain of the swim team. But then it all falls apart, because her mother's cancer returns. Lucy finds that she doesn't know what to believe anymore about God, or life, or herself. When her mother asks her to work at a summer camp for kids in tough situations instead of spending the summer with her, Lucy reluctantly agrees. As she cares for the kids in her cabin and gets to know her fellow counselors, everything she thought she knew begins to shift. This summer will change Lucy forever.

I confessed on Twitter that I cried my way through the last hundred pages of this book. I realize your mileage may vary, but this book resonated for me in a lot of ways. Lucy and I share being the children of ministers. In many ways, this is a blessing: you grow up secure in the knowledge that you are loved by God, your family, and a whole church full of people. But there is always a breaking point when you have to put aside everything you learned as a child and decide if faith is something you will keep for yourself. I've been through that moment and this book is the story of Lucy's moment. She finds that having faith is so much bigger than sitting in a pew every Sunday and that God can be seen in new ways through a beautifully starry night or the story of a new friend.

Emery Lord does an incredible job of writing teenagers. She captures the dichotomy of being almost but not quite grown up, where you're confident and unsure all at the same time. The Names They Gave Us is also one of the best depictions of life at camp, and it will make you remember just how quickly bonds formed and how strong they could be. I also loved the importance of family; in this book, we don't just see how close Lucy is to her parents, we also see other characters who cherish and fight for their families and friends.

This is a beautiful book. I am heartened to know that teens who find themselves in crisis, and aren't sure they can believe anymore, will have Lucy's story to take with them through that moment.

The Names They Gave Us
By Emory Lord
Bloomsbury USA Children's May 2017
390 pages
From the library

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Review: The Bedlam Stacks

Merrick Tremayne is stuck. After an injury to his leg, he is confined to the crumbling familial estate where he is slowly going crazy of boredom (if his brother doesn't drive him there first). When the India Office asks him to take one last expedition, he knows that it will be a disaster. But his desperation to do something other than sit at home drives him to take the job, even though the men sent before him didn't come back. Merrick sets out into the Amazon to find the quinine that can cure malaria, but the locals or perhaps the local spirits aren't going to allow an easy expedition. Can Merrick trust the people he encounters? Will he make it out of Peru alive?

When I saw that Natasha Pulley had a new book coming out, there was no doubt that I would have to read it. I loved her quirky and charming debut The Watchmaker of Filigree Street and I was excited to see what magical and unexpected things she would do in her newest book.

As it turns out, the two books are somewhat connected. There is a minor inclusion of a character from the first novel, but it mostly feels as if the two books are two sides of one coin. Watchmaker was very centered in the possibilities of machines and gears within the city and Bedlam lives in the realm of forests and seas and ancient magic. But I found myself frustrated because I wanted more and less at the same time. This book can easily be described as sprawling; the author is in no hurry to reveal all of her secrets. It seemed to take forever to get to the heart of the story and when we finally do, it seems like Ms. Pulley left out things that would have made the story and the characters richer.

Although this story didn't work for me completely, I was enchanted by many parts of it and I find Natasha Pulley to be a wildly inventive and unique writer in a sea of similar stories. I will certainly be back for the fascinating stories and characters I can't help but adore.

The Bedlam Stacks
By Natasha Pulley
Bloomsbury USA August 2017
336 pages
Read via Netgalley

Monday, August 14, 2017

It's Monday and I'm back from Disney!

Hello ladies and gentlemen!

I am back from sunny (and humid) Florida, where my husband and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary at Disney World. The kids very happily spent a week with two sets of grandparents, where they ate a lot of junk food, had too much screen time, and took trips to the museum and Chuck E. Cheese. Meanwhile, the husband and I enjoyed all of the rides, complete conversations, and eating an entire meal without taking someone to the bathroom!

The good news about going from Philly to Florida on a train is that you get lots of reading time. Over the past two weeks, I read The Lost Letter by Jillian Cantor, The Lauras by Sara Taylor, Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way by Shauna Niequist, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith, The History of Bees by Maja Lunde, My Glory Was I Had Such Friends by Amy Silverstein, and Rules of Civility by Amor Towles.

     The History of Bees      The Lost Letter

What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Review: The Sworn Virgin

Eleanora is happy with her life. Her adoring father takes her with him on his medical visits and will allow her to travel all the way to Italy to study the art that she loves. But then he is murdered on the street as a victim of an Albanian feud and Eleanora and her stepmother Mirlinda must find a way to survive. In desperation, Mirlinda sells her daughter in marriage to a wealthy and cruel neighbor. Eleanora refuses to be sold off and instead takes the vow of a sworn virgin. This gives her the right to live as a man: to run her family, carry a gun, and be afforded all of the respect of a man. It just might give her the tools she needs to discover who murdered her father and why. But it means she must remain a virgin for the rest of her life, which becomes much more difficult when she saves the life of a handsome stranger.

I chose to read this book because the setting of early 20th century Albania sounded fascinating and I wanted to know more about the idea of essentially declaring yourself a man and receiving all of the benefits of that position. It's clear that Kristopher Dukes has done her research and she takes the reader over mountain passes and treacherous rivers to the towns and villages that Eleanora visits. I would have liked a bit more information about the sworn virgins within the story; Eleanora does meet one other virgin, but she mostly makes a decision based off of things she has heard and makes it up as she goes along.

Eleanora herself is an interesting character. She has been pampered as much as possible in their culture, as her father allows her to do as she wishes and she has no responsibilities and leaves all the housework up to her stepmother. This makes her a rather selfish person. When her father dies, she has very little compassion for her stepmother and still focuses on what she wants above all else. Romance starts to bloom between Eleanora and a man named Cheremi, and she never stops to consider repercussions. In The Sworn Virgin, Kristopher Dukes has given us an interesting character and shown us a world we don't often encounter in historical fiction. I just wish that we had met a woman who could be both brave and kind, headstrong and considerate.

The Sworn Virgin
By Kristopher Dukes
William Morrow August 2017
352 pages
Received from the publisher for TLC Book Tours

Sunday, July 30, 2017

It's Monday. What are you reading this summer?

Hi everyone! How was your week?

It's been happy and busy around here, as my son's preschool reports used to say. We've really been enjoying summer with lots of time outside and a movie night (with ice cream, of course). My son and I even managed to sneak in some time at Barnes and Noble on Sunday afternoon.

This week, I read A Talent for Murder and The Sworn Virgin. Both are historical fiction; one imagines what happened during the week that Agatha Christie went missing and the second tells the story of an Albanian woman who swears to remain chaste in return for being considered a man by her community.

         A Talent for Murder     The Sworn Virgin

In a very unusual move for me, I don't have plans to pick up a book until Wednesday when I shall be whisked away on a train to Disney World. The husband and I are celebrating our ten year wedding anniversary with a trip sans kids, so I am excited to get a lot of reading done! My choices for the trip include The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, The Lauras, Rules of Civility, and Young Jane Young. Any suggestions on which book I should start with?

What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Wednesdays with David: Clara Humble and the Not-So-Super Powers

Clara Humble and the Not-So-Super Powers
By Anna Humphrey
Illustrated by Lisa Cinar
OwlKids Books September 2016
224 pages
Read via Netgalley 

Clara Humble and the Not-So-Super Powers

The Story: Clara is your typical fourth-grader, except for the pesky possibility that she might have superpowers. She is determined to use her powers of communicating with her pet chinchilla, spilling her drink, and controlling the minds of her teachers for good. It's clear that the world needs a superhero, especially with her beloved neighbor moving away and a rival school sharing their school building for the term. Clara is ready to save the day and tell readers all about it with her story and sketches.

Mama opines: David doesn't need me to read with him anymore, but I skimmed through the first few chapters of this one. Clara is a lot of fun. She reminds me of an older Junie B. or Ramona with her spunk and wit. Unfortunately we did not get Clara's comics in the egalley version, but I looked at them online and they looked exactly like the art a 10 year old would include.

Thoughts from David: Clara is funny and cool. Her ''super powers'' are kinda weird but usually they make sense somehow. Her powers seem real but they are, well, ''not so super powers." Also she's having a hard time at her school. AND at home. Her BFF neighbor, Momo,  is moving. And at school, her bitterest rivals, R. R Reginald Elementary is moving to their school for the term! Uh-oh!

As always, joke time! Why does Clara always wake up at exactly 8? To catch the villains! They wake up even earlier! Hmm, they must be super-tired! Hahaha!                

Happy reading!             

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Review: Everybody's Son

It was the hottest week anyone could remember in years. Anton's mother locked him in their inner-city apartment while she went to get a quick hit. But she didn't come back. Days later, Anton breaks a window and the police find him bloody, hungry, and overheated. When his mother is finally found, she is sent to prison and her son becomes a part of the foster care system. Anton's foster parents are David and Delores Coleman. They carry the tremendous loss of their own son and hope that Anton can bring some joy to their home again. With time, the Colemans come to love Anton and he cares very much for his foster parents, even as he asks about being reunited with his mother. David's love will drive him to use his power and influence as a judge to make a terrible decision that will have repercussions for everyone in his family.

Thrity Umrigar is not an author who shies away from tough questions. In Everybody's Son, she looks at the immoral decisions that people will make for the people they love. Anton is a boy who goes through difficult circumstances, but he is also a boy who is deeply loved by his mother and by his foster parents. It would be easy for the author to portray the drug-addicted mother as the villain and the kind Colemans as the heroes. It would also be easy to rail against the rich white people who took a black child away from the mother who was doing the best she could. But Thrity Umrigar does neither of these things. Instead, she has created a nuanced story in which characters do bad things for good reasons and good things for the wrong reasons.

The ending of this book was wrapped up a little neatly for me and I wished that we hadn't jumped from a lot of action to a lot of self-reflection in the final hundred pages. But Thrity Umrigar is a careful and compelling writer and this book will give you a lot to think about when it comes to power, privilege, and the bond of family.

Everybody's Son
By Thrity Umrigar
Harper June 2017
352 pages
From the library

Monday, July 24, 2017

It's Monday and we signed up for Pre-K!

Hi again! How is everyone doing?

This week was a busy one and we wrapped it up with an open house at BG's preschool on Saturday. The school organized a painting activity and a picnic lunch. Our little independent lady decided to ignore the lovely teacher showing them all how to paint a sailboat and did her own thing instead. Now we just have to convince her that her canvas cannot accompany her everywhere she goes. BG is signed up for Pre-K in September, so expect to see lots of pictures of her and possible renditions of "Sunrise, Sunset" right after Labor Day.

This week, I read The Woman Next Door and Word by Word. The first was a novel about two curmudgeonly old ladies who might have more in common than they think. The second was an absolutely delightful peek into working at a dictionary and a general celebration of how cool and bizarre the English language can be. I also fit in the graphic novel version of A Wrinkle in Time. I've been meaning to read it for a while and seeing the movie trailer finally gave me the push to get it from my library.

         Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries    A Talent for Murder

Next up for me is A Talent for Murder, which imagines what happened when Agatha Christie disappeared for an entire week.

What are you reading?